Breaking Through the Concrete Middle

Breaking Through the Concrete Middle: Two Questions to Drive Safety Culture Across Your Organization

By Eric Michrowski

When it comes to culture change, people often reference a ‘concrete middle’, which is the idea that senior leadership’s desire for change doesn’t pass through middle levels of management to reach the front line. It’s essential that safety culture changes pierce through this potential resistance, as safety is a primary concern, especially for front-line team members.

Driving Safety Culture Across Your Organization

Once training has clearly communicated leadership expectations around culture change to your team members, it’s time to turn these expectations into actions so that change momentum drives through your entire organization. Themes such as Psychological Safety (comfort speaking up, stopping work, and escalating issues) and Active Care, as well as other leadership competencies, need to start figuring prominently and regularly.

As these objectives are not strictly measurable, it’s important for senior leaders to check in on their teams to assess and encourage progress. The goal of these safety discussions isn’t to receive standard “good” answers, but rather to inspire reflection.

Real Life Example

During one consulting engagement, a CEO I worked with realized that even though he shared and reinforced key safety themes with his senior leaders, many of them didn’t know how to act on their new knowledge. Moreover, leaders sometimes didn’t prioritize improving safety culture because they were solely focused on measurable objectives.

The solution? To have regular check-ins and discuss recent, relevant situations during which safety factors were at play.

Use effective questions like these as jumping off points:

1. How did you drive your team’s Safety Culture forward this week?

2. What safety leadership habit did you focus on this week and what result did you see?

When the CEO first started asking his leaders these questions, he was met with blank stares. People hadn’t internalized their safety training and were unable to give examples of how they were putting safety themes and strategies into action. Their answers were unspecific and somewhat distant. Nevertheless, the CEO persevered and continued to have conversations on the implementation of safety culture changes.

By pushing towards more concrete, recent examples from the past week, the CEO was able to drive weekly action around Safety Culture. This is when real change started to take place.

Check out more blog posts in this series for more Effective Questions to help develop your organization’s safety culture:

At Propulo, we use current research to help organizations effectively implement safety culture change.


Preventing Human Error in Healthcare: The Power of a “Just Culture”


10 Minutes and a Cup of Coffee